On Oct. 8, hours after the authorities announced the arrest of 13 men in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a photo purporting to be one of the suspects went viral.
The image showed a short-haired white man with a 5 o’clock shadow giving a thumbs-up next to Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, a leading voice for young Trump supporters. “BINGO,” the caption said.
Although it didn’t directly say that the man was one of the suspects, people on Twitter quickly misconstrued it as such.
“Holy crap,” one man quote-tweeted to his 100,000 followers. “One was a speaker who opened the republican national convention for Trump. The other just got arrested for ploting terrorism and to kidnap the governor of Michigan.”
The statement was false, but it was enough to start a rumor widely amplified on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter. It even fooled a Washington Post reporter, who retweeted it to his half a million followers. Tens of thousands of people saw the falsehood before the day was out.
But a web search shows that the man pictured is Alex Kuzmenko, also known as Alex Kyzik, a pro-Trump activist who lives in Idaho and was in no way related to the alleged Whitmer plot.
At a glance, Kuzmenko could be mistaken for one of the men arrested. They’re all white and have similar features. Many of the men have beards, and Kuzmenko’s stubble could have played into the misconception.
But he had no connection at all.
Kuzmenko has organized Trump rallies in the past, the Washington Post has reported, including car caravans like the one on Aug. 29 in Portland, which ended in the shooting of a far-right activist and the death of an anti-fascist activist at the hands of police.
Correction: Thirteen people were charged in connection to a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. A previous version of this post misstated the number of people charged.